Are we making any progress curbing public procurement fraud in Africa? The consensus seems to be very little, although there are pockets of not quite excellence, but at least some promise.
The Anti-corruption Agencies
10 years ago the World Bank reviewed the activities of anti-corruption agencies active in Africa and came to the conclusion that they were not particularly effective, despite some significant funding. They concluded that African governments, in general:
- lack the know-how or the political will to control corruption and procurement fraud
- want just to be seen to be taking some action, however ineffectual it is in practice
In reality, if a study was undertaken today, the results would be about the same. This is despite efforts by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), Transparency International (TI) and Corruption Watch and others.
TI’s arm in Ghana, GII, says that their “vision is to make Ghana a corruption-free country in all spheres of human endeavour, where people and institutions act with integrity, accountability and transparency”. Worthy sentiments, but is it just rhetoric?
The OECD tells us that “public procurement remains the government activity most vulnerable to waste, fraud and corruption due to the size of the financial flows involved”. On average, 12-15 per cent of a country’s GDP is spent on public procurement. Some of this is wasted. However, there are no reliable statistics of how much money is lost to procurement fraud and corruption across Africa, as much of it goes unreported.
Kenya’s Procurement Woes
Despite an active but bureaucratic watchdog in Kenya: The Public Procurement Oversight Authority (PPOA), public procurement fraud and collusion in tenders is alive and well, and some say endemic. Many of the reported high value failures are in transport and logistics including railways and ports, and particularly in education.
PPOA has as its tag line “transforming procurement”. It has a laundry list of tender appeals awaiting attention and looks like it is losing the battle. Ask Haier Electrical or Hewlett Packard who together won a case against the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in 2014 involving a project of more than US$400 million.
PwC says in a newly published report that one in every three Kenyan business leaders reported procurement-related fraud in the past two years, making it the most common type of economic crime in the country. The report faults Kenya’s procurement processes as not being robust enough to guarantee integrity at all levels.
The Politics of Preference – Women, Youth and Local Sourcing
There is growing disquiet about preferential procurement rules and guidelines like those legislated in countries such as Nigeria. The Nigerian government wants to help the local economy by developing emerging businesses, but new legislation on local sourcing may have the opposite effect if it is prescriptive. Will “Made in Nigeria” allow suppliers to charge more for inferior products and services and will government buyers somehow be tempted to offer guarantees – for a fee or other benefit?
Initiatives being taken to tackle the scourge
The World Bank’s new procurement framework will allow it to better respond to the needs of client countries in Africa, while preserving robust procurement standards throughout Bank-supported projects. Since they have a portfolio of about US$42 billion in over 1,800 projects in 172 countries, this is significant.
There’s also some good news coming out of South Africa. The Chief Procurement Officer, Kenneth Brown, has kept a low profile. Behind the scenes, his team are quietly reviewing all tenders over R10m for compliance to the rules and are looking for opportunities for cost savings.
On an expenditure of R500 billion annually, its target of savings of R25 billion looks achievable.
The State’s fragmented spending practices are now being centralised to reduce waste and get more leverage through technology. They have set their sights on some key categories: travel at R10 billion per annum, ICT, construction and leases.
The new online eTenders portal launches in April 2016 with a modest maintenance cost of just R16,000 a month. It introduces much needed transparency and will save a staggering R400 million a year that the government spends on advertising the tenders in newspapers.